We live in an age that prefers convenience over conservation. We do not want long-term commitment to that plastic cup at the picnic over the weekend or anything else really. Even marriage has become disposable and cheap to match the current generation.
Marriage in the conservative Mennonite community is one of those things that has not undergone this silverware to plastic transformation. Divorce is not an option for those raised in this tradition. However—having been otherwise assimilated into the prevailing culture—many of us are choosing to divorce from a marriage commitment altogether and remain single.
In some cases there can be abstinence from marriage for religious and other good reasons. Paul wrote: “Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man (unmarried) to remain as he is.” (1 Corinthians 7:26) That recommendation likely being for the “present crisis” of widespread persecution and the coming destruction of Jerusalem.
But, the awkward unholy alliance of Mennonite and millennial values is not a Christian ideal.
In this age I suspect the choice to remain single is often selfish and simply a reflection of millennial generation values having rubbed off on us. To many marriage seems inconvenient, it would impose on their freedom to travel the world and require maturation. We, like other millennials, postpone our adulthood and some would rather remain perpetually childish.
There is some difference between us as conservative Mennonites and the typical millennial. We, unlike them, are afraid to date and young women encouraged to turn down all suitors who do not fit their (or their mother’s) idealistic list of requirements. They are convinced (and perhaps because of a culture too focused on women being submissive) not to take a risk until they simply lose interest.
You’ll note that I’ve positioned women as the gatekeepers to courtship and marriage and that’s because they are. It is the one place in conservative Mennonite culture where they know their voice is heard. Can we really blame a young woman, especially one raised around a patriarchal dad or controlling brothers, for being reluctant to sign away her independence?
Unfortunately her reluctance is not equally matched by male counterparts. I know many exasperated unmarried guys who followed all the rules, who jumped through all the hoops, and have only known rejection. A good Mennonite guy will not even get a first date unless he is judged worthy by some incomprehensible measure.
Our not choosing commitment in the present will cost our faith and future potential.
I’m all for choice and choosing wisely. However, that is something altogether different from choosing not to choose altogether for fear of choosing incorrectly. There is an unbalance in favor of over-caution (or a commitment phobia) that could result in lasting consequences and serious disappointment if not addressed.
Marriage, a relationship where Christian commitment to self-sacrificial love is tested and exampled, should not be so easily discarded. Men, especially non-resistant men who can’t serve society as soldiers and police, have strong desire for something of tangible concrete value to protect. Women, by contrast, can have this need to nurture fulfilled in caretaking, a career in the medical profession or elsewhere, and even profit handsomely.
A single man is often ineligible for leadership positions in the church. Conservative Mennonite employers often offer less compensation men without families or overlook them entirely. And, in youth obsessed American culture, his disadvantage only grows and increase in age only increases the stigma. The married men brag from the pulpit how their lovely wife made them everything they are while the bachelor wonders why he is amongst those unworthy.
That’s not to say that there aren’t many unmarried and wanting women either. For as many young women who got asked two dozen times and said “no” every time, there’s also probably as many who never got asked once. It is because Mennonite guys won’t risk asking a girl who doesn’t fit their list of requirements for fear of rejection and getting a reputation for a girl they were unsure about to begin with.
Yet, in my estimation, it is unmarried men and the future of the church that are hurt most in the current paradigm. Our culture is still traditional enough that a single woman can expect to be under the care of her parents. She can enjoy a special flexibility whilst waiting for her white knight. Not true of her brothers, they can’t afford to go on adventures and yet risk being judged as unspiritual for preparing for the responsibility of marriage.
Unmarried conservative Mennonite men are the most disposable. We must be always available without complaint at a moments notice and be providers protection without compromise. It is pathetic, actually, what men give out for free. But to be more guarded, to carefully guard our hearts as something precious or preservable, and keep our strengths to ourselves is impermissible.
We must be like a paper plate, an adequate stand-in performer, something wanted around for temporary use, and okay to be tossed in the trash. And, yet, we must also live up to the traditional Mennonite male role and display the qualities of fine chinaware.
Respect your own value if you wish to be respected.
Here’s my recommendation for those single people who wish to be married and have been routinely rejected or overlooked: Stop grovelling in front of the unappreciative, open your eyes like Peter did envisioning the expansion of the church (Acts 10:9-16) and open the doors of your wedding feast to those who understand the value you intend to offer them.
Jesus spoke about not casting our pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6) and not persisting with those who do not value us: “If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” (Luke 9:5) We might want to consider this advice when the value of our commitment is rejected in our own communities.
Loyalty can be a fault. There are unmarried men and women outside your own religious community who might better appreciate your Christian testimony. So don’t waste the remainder of your virile years wondering why the ‘right one’ won’t even have coffee with you.
God isn’t a Mennonite and, as a faithful child of God, you aren’t garbage.